The Story of Dr. Wassell

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The Story of Dr. Wassell
The Story of Dr. Wassell 1944 Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Screenplay by
  • Alan Le May
  • Charles Bennett
Story by
  • Corydon M. Wassell
  • James Hilton
Produced byCecil B. DeMille
Edited by Anne Bauchens
Music by Victor Young
Color process Technicolor
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • July 4, 1944 (1944-07-04)(US)
Running time
140 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Story of Dr. Wassell is a 1944 American World War II film set in the Dutch East Indies, directed by Cecil B. DeMille, and starring Gary Cooper, Laraine Day, Signe Hasso and Dennis O'Keefe. The film was based on a book of the same name by novelist and screenwriter James Hilton.


The book and film were inspired by the wartime activities of U.S. Navy Doctor Corydon M. Wassell which were referred to by President Roosevelt in a radio broadcast made in April 1942. The appropriate section of this broadcast appears toward the end of the film.

For their work on this film, Farciot Edouart, Gordon Jennings and George Dutton received a nomination for the Oscar for Best Effects. [1]


Dr. Wassell is a missionary doctor from Arkansas, who had in the past worked in China (which is shown in the first half of the film as a series of flashback (narrative)s) and after the Japanese invasion of Batavia finds himself (now as a doctor in the US Navy) caring for twelve American soldiers badly wounded during Japanese strafing of some cruisers. Ignoring advice to abandon his patients, Wassell manages to care for them while leading them through the jungle until they can be evacuated by boat to Australia. [2]



It was originally announced that Yvonne De Carlo would play the role of the Javanese nurse. [3]

DeMille wanted Alan Ladd to play the role of Hoppy, but he had to go into military service. [4]


A contemporary review by Bosley Crowther in The New York Times described the film as "blood, sweat and tears built up to spectacle in the familiar De Mille "epic" style," and "a fiction which is as garish as the spires of Hollywood. [De Mille] has telescoped fact with wildest fancy in the most flamboyantly melodramatic way. And he has messed up a simple human story with the cheapest kind of comedy and romance," adding that De Mille "has worked in enough pyrotechnics to leave the audience suffering from shell shock." [5] A review of the film in Variety reported that "The exploits of the by-now famed naval commander are brought to the screen on a lavish scale by Cecil B. DeMille, with an exceptionally fine cast and good comedy relief," further noting that the film features "one of Cooper’s best performances." [6] Writing in AllMovie, critic Craig Butler notes in his review that although "Cecil B. DeMille and his writers have tricked out [the plot] with cliché after cliché, including an entirely extraneous volcano explosion," the film "ends up being a good enough movie, thanks to the underlying idea, DeMille's adept way of handling over-the-top action plots and Gary Cooper's contrasting customary underplaying." [7]

The film was the seventh most popular film of the year released in Australia in 1945, [8] and the fifth most popular movie of 1946 in France with admissions of 5,866,693.

In the Truman Capote novella Breakfast at Tiffany's , Holly Golightly was to have auditioned for the role of Dr. Wassel's nurse, but impulsively left for New York City.

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  1. "The 17th Academy Awards (1945) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2013-06-23.
  2. Jeffrey Meyers, Gary Cooper: American Hero, Rowman & Littlefield 2001 ISBN   978-0-815-41140-6 pp.189-140.
  3. "DRAMA: 'Cousin' Rewrite Set; Hubbard Joining Cast" Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 18 Feb 1943: A8.
  4. "DRAMA AND FILM: O'Keefe Wins 'Hoppy' Role in 'Dr. Wassell' Carmen Miranda Lively Addition to 'Greenwich Village' at 20th" Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 23 June 1943: A8.
  5. Crowther, Bosley (1944-07-07). "' The Story of Dr. Wassell,' With Gary Cooper, Opens at Rivoli -- 'Song of the Open Road' at Criterion -- A Soviet Operetta". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 2023-03-08.
  6. "The Story of Dr. Wassell". Variety. Variety Media LLC. Retrieved 2023-03-08.
  7. Butler, Craig. "The Story of Dr. Wassell (1944)". AllMovie. Netaktion LLC. Retrieved 2023-03-08.
  8. "News About Movies". The Mail . Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 12 January 1946. p. 8. Retrieved 4 March 2013.